With Spring Training right around the corner, we take a look at how Phillies’ catchers compare with the rest of the NL East.
As things currently stand, Phillies’ pitchers and catchers are set to report to Clearwater on February 17th, less than a month away. While rosters have yet to be fully furnished this offseason, it is time to take a look at how the Phillies stack up against the National League East, position-by-position.
Today, we start by taking a look behind the plate at the likely starting catchers for the 2021 season. Now, free agent J.T. Realmuto has yet to sign but is almost certainly re-signing with the Phillies. For now, we will include Realmuto in this list as a free agent and Andrew Knapp as the Phillies’ catcher. Thankfully, every other team’s starting catcher is basically set in stone heading into 2021.
A Numbers Game
Given how easy it would be to bring in a pro-Phillies bias into the list, this list (and the subsequent lists to follow) will be 100% statistics-based. Given the complexity of the game, however, we cannot simply look at one stat to make our decisions. Therefore, we’re looking at multiple statistics in an effort to the traditional five tools of baseball. Offensively, OPS, HR, and SB will cover all the major bases for us. Given that catching is a defensive-heavy position, we will also look at three defensive statistics: dWAR, Errors, and CS%. While these statistics are not all-encompassing, and certain aspects of the game are sure to be underlooked, these statistics will give a good beat on the competence of the players on this list.
We will look primarily at each player’s 2020 statistics. Given that each player may not have played in the same amount of games, we will weight statistics so each player is given a fair shake. That way, Yan Gomes’ 30 games played does not give him an advantage or disadvantage over J.T. Realmuto’s 47 games played in any category.
How do Phillies Catchers Compare?
1. J.T. Realmuto | Free Agent
Not surprised? Of course you’re not. J.T. Realmuto is definitively the best catcher in the game of baseball. The catcher is entering his age-30 season this year with some of his best years to come. While he had a down year defensively in 2020, he proved that he is the definition of a five-tool catcher. He had a career-best OPS and was on track to hit a career-high 30 home runs. Realmuto also helped on the basepath, notching 4 stolen bases. And while the numbers don’t show it, he is still the best catcher in the game when it comes to framing pitches.
A report did break, however, on Thursday that the Braves are “circling in” on Realmuto. Whether or not that report is legitimate or not, losing Realmuto to a division rival would be devastating. the Phillies reportedly submitted a five-year offer to Realmuto last week, so hopefully, he will return to Philadelphia any day now.
2. James McCann | Mets
When the Mets pulled the trigger and signed James McCann to a four-year contract, they definitively improved at catcher. With an OPS higher than Realmuto and a surge in pickoffs last year, McCann is among the best in the game. He did, however, commit the most errors at catcher on this list in 2020.
The Mets will not complain much, however, as signing the cheaper McCann allowed them to pursue Francisco Lindor via trade. The Mets have improved as an overall organization this offseason, and catcher is just one of those positions.
3. Yan Gomes | Nationals
In an offseason where the Nationals have made several key acquisitions, they seem to be sticking with reliable Yan Gomes at catcher. Gomes, 33, is entering his third year in the Beltway after having spent the majority of his career in Cleveland.
An above-average bat for his position, Gomes will likely start over 100 games for the Nationals in 2021 while providing sufficient defense. Gomes is by far the flashiest player on this list, but he is a reliable catcher who will play well for the Nationals in 2021.
4. Andrew Knapp | Phillies
Andrew Knapp took a big step forward for the Phillies in 2020 and that shines through in his placement on this list. Phillies fans are likely to wonder why Knapp is not last on this list, but with a strong .849 OPS and mediocre defense, Knapp performed better than the remaining two catchers in 2020.
In 2018 and 2019, Knapp built a reputation on earning more strikeouts than hits and walks combined. But, as hitting coach Joe Dillon joined the fray in 2020, Knapp became more disciplined at the plate. In fact, he was on pace for career-highs in hits and walks. Combine this surge offensively with his consistent defensive play, and Knapp is the fourth-best catcher in the division. If the unthinkable happens and Realmuto does not return, Knapp can hold down the fort as a “Plan B.”
5. Travis d’Arnaud | Braves
Interestingly enough, the remaining two players on this list are both former Phillies. d’Arnaud was drafted by the Phillies in the first round of the 2007 MLB draft. He joined Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor in a trade to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay in 2009. Since then, d’Arnaud has played for the Mets, Dodgers, Rays, and now the Braves.
While the catcher has had glimpses of greatness throughout his career, 2020 was his best year offensively by far. With an OPS of .919 (best on this list) and nine home runs, d’Arnuad proved himself as an offensive catcher. Unfortunately, he’s not a good defensive catcher. Having notched three errors and catching the least amount of baserunners on this list, d’Arnaud hurts his teams defensively. His -0.5 dWAR was the worst on this list, and given the importance of defense for a catcher, he finds himself low on the totem pole.
6. Jorge Alfaro | Marlins
Rounding out the list is former Phil Jorge Alfaro. Since being traded to South Beach in the Realmuto-Sixto Sanchez trade, Alfaro has appeared in 161 games for the Marlins. His offense has remained mediocre at best while his defense leaves a lot to be desired. Alfaro actually regressed offensively in 2002 as his OPS dropped over 100 points. Among this list, Alfaro is the only catcher that does not hit at least on par with the league’s average.
The Marlins are a young, up-and-coming team in the NL East, but they will not be beating many teams because of their starting catcher.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire